by Willard Manus
APART, Denmark's nomination in the foreign-film category of the 2009 Academy
Awards, writer/director Niels Arden Oplev tells a Romeo and Juliet-like
story. The youthful, star-crossed lovers in this case are Sara (Rosalinde
Mynster) and Teis (Johan Philip 'Pilou' Asbaek) who enter into a forbidden
relationship and must struggle against terrible odds to keep seeing each
Sara is the 17-year-old daughter of a family of Jehovah Witnesses, a religious
sect which has strict rules concerning the beliefs and behavior of its
members. Fundamentalist to the core, the Witnesses frown on alcohol, frivolity
and immorality of any kind, especially when it comes to relations between
No hanky-panky allowed, beginning with adult men or women. Those who are
married must remain faithful to each other, until death do them part.
As for those who are single, like Sara, dating--much less sex--is a no-no,
grounds for punishment by the church elders.
Sara is a devout believer in Jehovah when the film opens, a lively, thoughtful
girl with a compassionate side. After her father, Andreas (Jens Jorn Spottag),
broke all the rules by having an affair, Sara stood up for him after he
repented publicly for his sins. She also fights desperately to convince
her mother, Karen (Sarah Boberg), to forgive Andreas and keep the family
intact (Sara has a younger brother and sister).
Karen is too angry and bitter to extend forgiveness. She has walked out,
not only on the family but the church itself, choosing instead to live
on her own as a non-believer, a doubter. Sara, like the other Witnesses,
is dismayed--but not to the extent of disowning her mother. Karen may
be an outsider but she's still her mother, someone who deserves her love.
And love is what Sara is all about, really. It's brought home when she
meets Teis, who is not a Witness. Not only that, he doesn't have much
use for religion of any kind. About the only thing he believes in is his
music--he plays in a rock band and also helps produce records.
Still, he's both attracted to Sara and bewildered by her--like most of
us, he doesn't know much about the Witnesses, except that they regularly
come knocking at our doors, trying to proselytize and convert us.
One of the admirable things about WORLDS APART is the insight it provides
into the workings and mindset of the Witnesses, a people who honestly
believe the end is near and that on the day of Armageddon only those who
believe in Jehovah will be saved. They'll be able to ascend to heaven
to join their ancestors for all eternity while the rest of us perish for
WORLDS APART dramatizes this extreme viewpoint without sneering at it
or caricaturing it. The Witnesses are portrayed as recognizable, well-meaning
people, even when they turn on Sara for having flaunted church doctrine
by taking up with Teis. Led by John (Anders W. Berthelsen), the head of
the flock, the elders confront Sara and try to make her see the error
of her ways. They are stern and disapproving, not above threatening her
with the fires of hell, but at the same time it's clear that they have
compassion for Sara and deeply regret having to threaten her like this.
Sara, caught in the middle between her deep-rooted religious beliefs and
the power of her love for Teis, must make a difficult, near-impossible
choice. Oplev, helped by his excellent cast and creative crew--notably
cinematographer Lars Vestergaard--brings Sara's dilemma to life with uncommon
force and skill.
WORLDS APART is in Danish with English-language subtitles. It is produced
by Nordisk Film in cooperation with TV 2/Denmark.